Gurkha killed in Afghanistan had followed father

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The Independent Online

A soldier killed in Afghanistan at the weekend had followed in his father and brother's footsteps by becoming a Gurkha, his family said today.

Rifleman Vijay Rai, from the 2nd Battalion, The Royal Gurkha Rifles, died after the checkpoint he was guarding in the Nahr-e Saraj region of Helmand province was attacked with small arms fire on Saturday.

The 21-year-old was the youngest of five and had followed his father and brother as they both served as Indian Gurkhas, while his middle brother is still serving with Indian Gurkhas as a sergeant, his family said today.

In a statement issued through the Ministry of Defence, his family revealed he had phoned them the day before he died.

It said: "He followed his father's and brother's footsteps as his father and elder brother served as Indian Gurkhas and his middle brother is serving with Indian Gurkhas as a sergeant.

"He rang his family a day before he was taken away from us.

"He was very proud to be a Gurkha, and died doing his chosen job. His father and family members are very proud of him."

A gifted sportsman, Rifleman Rai was born in Bhojpur District, Deaurali in the East of Nepal.

After his education, he wanted to continue his family history of military service and after passing Gurkha Selection was enlisted into the British Army in December 2008, aged 18.

He completed his basic training before being posted to 2nd Battalion The Royal Gurkha Rifles in Brunei.

A keen footballer, Rifleman Rai led his intake to victory in the 2nd Battalion The Royal Gurkha Rifles' inter-intake competition before deploying to Afghanistan on his first operational tour of duty, attached to Combined Force Nahr-e-Saraj (South) as part of the 1 RIFLES Battle Group, in April this year.

The 21-year-old had taken over a sentry position guarding a temporary checkpoint on Saturday, when it was were attacked by small arms fire.

He was hit in the opening burst and, despite medical care, died later of his wounds.

Today colleagues paid tribute to the 21-year-old, speaking of his desire to follow his family military tradition.

Lieutenant Colonel Fraser Rea, Commanding Officer, 2nd Battalion, The Royal Gurkha Rifles, said: "Rifleman Vijay was tough, loyal, uncomplaining and utterly professional.

"He had a ready smile, a big heart and loved his sport and music.

"He was deeply committed to his fellow soldiers in Amboor Company and to the local Afghans whose lives he strove to improve during the tour.

"He came from a military background and was immensely proud to have been selected for service in the British Army.

"He was a talented young man with vast amounts of promise. Although only two years into his own military career, he had established himself as a leader amongst his own peer group and on the sports pitch, where he excelled."

Major Nick Thom, Officer Commanding A (Amboor) Company, 2nd Battalion, The Royal Gurkha Rifles, said Rifleman Rai was five-and-a-half months into his first tour of duty and had demonstrated "true grit and courage" on a number of occasions.

Major Yambahadur Rana MVO, Gurkha Major, 2nd Battalion, The Royal Gurkha Rifles said: "He was an immensely proud Rifleman from a strong military background, following his father and two elder brothers' footsteps who all served with the Indian Army.

"He epitomised the very best qualities expected of a Gurkha soldier. He will be sorely missed by all within the Battalion and his memory will endure in our hearts."

Defence Secretary Philip Hammond added: "Rifleman Vijay Rai was clearly a dedicated, professional and well loved soldier who tragically lost his life while protecting his comrades.

"My thoughts go out to the family, friends and colleagues of this proud Gurkha at this most difficult time."

The death takes to 383 the number of British forces personnel or MoD civilians

killed while serving in Afghanistan since the start of operations in October 2001.